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Faith in Fresno trains rapid-response team to defend undocumented facing deportation

Activists offer advice for undocumented immigrants

Faith in Fresno hosted an informational session for undocumented immigrants on their rights.
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Faith in Fresno hosted an informational session for undocumented immigrants on their rights.

Undocumented immigrants threatened by deportation have an ally in a team of Fresno clergy and community members now training themselves on how to best come to the immigrants’ defense.

“The raids are going to come to a community near you – even if you haven’t seen them yet,” warned Eddie Carmona, director of PICO National Network’s immigration campaign, “LA RED,” during a Monday evening training at Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church organized by Faith in Fresno, a Faith in the Valley group under the umbrella of PICO. Faith in the Valley leaders plan to alert a volunteer response team upon hearing of any arrests by law enforcement officials. Numerous groups working to protect undocumented immigrants say they have not yet heard of any deportation raids in Fresno.

The volunteer response team also aims to help in other ways, including responding to reports of violence and hate crimes.

The most important thing we can do right now is show up, and the way we’re thinking about rapid response is a way for every one of us in this room to show up in a powerful way.

Thomas Weiler, Faith in Fresno organizer

Participants at Monday’s training were broken into three groups – rapid responders, mission control and accompanists – each aimed at helping in different ways.

The goals of each group:

▪ Rapid response: Arrive during a raid or emergency to pray for those affected and document what’s happening.

▪ Mission control: Coordinate a response, including calling other community members to provide more support and resources.

▪ Accompanists: Arrive after the emergency to help affected families, such as connecting them with legal resources or providing rides.

Jasmine Wallace said she chose to join the mission control group because her father is a retired police officer, and she knows the important role dispatch plays in coordinating a response and providing information during an emergency.

“One thing we have to do is identify ourselves first not as black or white or by our religions, but as children of God – that’s who we are first,” she said of helping the undocumented. “We are all children of God.”

These are people who are called by their faith to respond to injustice because it’s the right thing to do.

Jess Fitzpatrick, co-chair of

Wallace is a member of Carter Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church. The southwest Fresno church designated itself as a sanctuary church, which means it is willing to harbor people facing the threat of deportation. Immigration agents are advised by the Department of Homeland Security that arrests at “sensitive locations such as schools, places of worship, and hospitals should generally be avoided.” A number of other Fresno congregations are now considering declaring their churches as sanctuaries.

Faith in Fresno organizer Thomas Weiler said Monday’s training was meant to be “phase two” in working to protect undocumented immigrants, which begins with educating people about their rights.

Jess Fitzpatrick, co-chair of Trans-E-Motion, is among those who joined the rapid response group.

“I feel that having a physical presence at these events consistently – and doing the type of work of prayerful activism – is powerful and inspiring,” Fitzpatrick said of responding to help people. “I think it shows that it’s not just the ‘crazy’ – what people think are the super-left wing. These are people who are called by their faith to respond to injustice because it’s the right thing to do.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

Get involved

Rapid-response team: Email info@faithinthevalley.org to learn more about responding to support immigrants facing deportation or getting help.

Know Your Rights forum: 11:30 a.m. March 12 at St. Anthony Mary Claret Catholic Church, 2494 S. Chestnut Ave., Fresno, after Sunday Mass

Advocate: Faith in the Valley groups will gather at the state Capitol from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 15 to show their support for SB54: the California Values Act and SB31: the Religious Freedom Act. People can register online at fblinks.com/stand.

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